It’s been an awful season to be a New Jersey Devils fan; the team has been ravaged by injuries and the on-ice product has suffered both from that and from inferior personnel. This year’s squad is arguably worse than many of the line-ups iced during the “dark ages” from 2012-2017. That’s not to say that there haven’t been good moments, and sometimes it is hard to look at the good happening when there’s so much bad surrounding or drowning that good. Today, here are some good things (aside from the play of Will Butcher that CJ highlighted yesterday) that have happened to the New Jersey Devils this season:
The Emergence of Blake Coleman
Maybe it’s not fair to classify this season as his emergence due to the fact that Coleman established himself as a legitimate NHL player last year. This season has been a leap forward for him and he has shown himself to be more important than just a bottom six forward with penalty killing ability. With 18 goals, Coleman trails only Kyle Palmieri for the team lead and considering how the rest of the team has been playing, these aren’t just good fortune goals either. Blake should be a key piece for the Devils moving into next season.
Pavel Zacha’s Improvement
Some may argue this point, but ever since returning from his AHL stint, Zacha has been a much better NHLer, and he has a new career high in goals to show for it. His assist total is disturbingly low this season, but he can’t make the pass and force his linemate to bury the puck. His defense has been excellent, and he has started to bury the puck more; at only 21 years old (22 at season’s end) there may still be hope for him yet.
MacKenzie Blackwood may be in Binghamton right now, but he showed fans during his brief tenure in New Jersey why he could be the future in net. While the team played like the same dumpster fire at times in front of him as they did Cory Schneider or Keith Kinkaid, Mac still managed to look like a competent NHL player and is the only goalie to have played for the Devils this season that has posted a save percentage above .900. Mac’s .926 save percentage and 2.37 goals against average are both team bests for 2018-19, and while it might be a limited sample size (as we’ve said time and again), he was still doing something right by not bleeding goals the way the aforementioned duo have been all season.
Not Ruining Prospect Development
This might be the most important point of all, and one that some fans may not realize. With the large number of injuries the Devils have suffered this season, the names called up have not always to fans’ liking. Oh sure, Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian got a cup of coffee this year (and John Quenneville more than that), but the forwards called up for extended periods have been Kevin Rooney, Kurtis Gabriel, and now seemingly Nick Lappin. With those three, the Devils know what they’ve got, and essentially the entire group boils down to one forward who’s a good penalty killer with some AHL players sprinkled in. Defense has been a similar story with Egor Yakovlev getting inconsistent time, but now Eric Gryba being left in the lineup on a more regular basis to get coned.
The names that people want to see stay in Binghamton to be developed have stayed for the most part. This will allow them to see meaningful minutes on a team that is less of a mess right now. That will be important for them in terms of their confidence and long-term growth and it may also be what saves the Devils from turning into a joke of a franchise.
While these may be outweighed by the negatives this season, it’s still good to see some good things that we can hope will carry over into next season. Which of these positives stands out the most to you? Is there something positive to take from this year’s team that I didn’t mention? Are any of the mentioned positives not really positives at all? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!